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Office of International Services

320 Daniels Hall, Box 7222
(phone) 919.515.2961 (fax) 919.515.1402
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
(Initial Segment Not for use for STEM Extension OPT)

What is Optional
Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an immigration benefit given to eligible F-1 students who wish
to engage in employment during and/or after their academic program. The employment must be
directly related to the students field of study at the current education level, and temporary in
nature. USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security) must approve the OPT application based on the OIS recommendation before
employment can begin. If approved, USCIS will issue the student an Employment Authorization
Document (EAD card) with specific employment eligibility dates.

OPT Eligibility
F-1 students must have maintained status and fulltime enrollment for at least one full academic
year and be in good academic standing to apply for OPT. In addition, F-1 students must have
maintained the terms and conditions of F-1 status and obtained the recommendation of their
academic advisor (DGP) to be eligible for OPT. Also, if a student has engaged in more than 12
months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT), the student is ineligible for any OPT.
Time Limits
How many months
can I apply for?
Most F-1 students are eligible for a maximum of 12 months of OPT for each degree level. If a
student does not apply for OPT or use the full period he/she has been authorized for, the student
cannot carry this time over for use at a later period. Students MAY apply for less than 12 months
for pre-completion OPT. An extension of OPT may be possible for students who have an approved
H-1B petition or who have graduated in a STEM field and are currently engaged in full-time post-
completion OPT (please see STEM and Cap-Gap Information and STEM Application on the OIS
Forms website:

What if I plan to do
another degree, will
I be eligible for OPT

What is my
program end date?

Can I begin working
before I graduate or
complete my
Current regulations allow students the possibility to apply for 12 months of OPT at each
consecutive degree level. (i.e. Bachelors, Masters and PhD). Example: A student who completes
12 months of OPT after a Masters degree would become eligible for another 12 months of
practical training when he/she changes to and meets the eligibility requirements for a new higher
educational level; in this case, a PhD degree.

At the time that the OPT application is submitted, the program end date on the I-20 will be updated
to reflect the students date of completion. The program end date is determined by successful
completion of required coursework and varies based on degree level and type of program:

Undergraduate & Masters Non-thesis: program end date is the last day of the final
semester of enrollment (Graduation Day).

Masters thesis and PhD students: program end date is determined by successful defense.
Student may choose to use date of defense OR the last day of enrollment as their program end
date. If date of defense is after the last day of enrollment, students will use the last day of
enrollment as the program end date.

****Please note: OIS defers to the Graduate School to determine enrollment requirements.
Unnecessary enrollment after successful defense will not postpone the program end date or allow
for delay in the OPT application process.

Undergraduate and Masters Non-thesis students may be eligible for part-time or full-time pre-
completion OPT during their annual vacation (summer) provided they have pre-registered for full-
time enrollment for the following semester. When school is in session, students may be eligible for
part-time pre-completion OPT provided that all employment does not exceed 20 hrs per week and
the student maintains concurrent full-time enrollment. Masters thesis and PhD students are eligible
for both pre- and post-completion OPT, and should consult with OIS regarding the benefits of each.
(In addition to OPT, CPT might be an option for these circumstances. CPT information: )

Please note: Students are ineligible to engage in OPT employment and on-campus employment

(i.e., TA/RA or bi-weekly appointment) at the same time.

Any OPT used prior to completion will be deducted from the 12 month total. Part-time pre-
completion OPT is calculated at time rate (i.e., 3 months part-time= 1.5 months full-time OPT).
There is no maximum number of hours for full-time, but it is generally considered to be anything
more than 20 hours per week. Students should discuss pre-completion OPT with an OIS advisor
before making any off-campus employment or program completion plans.
What if I dont finish
my degree and I
have already
applied for OPT?

When should I
apply for OPT?

How long does it
take for USCIS to
process my OPT
Participation in post-completion OPT is contingent on completion of an academic program (for
thesis students, this means completed defense of thesis). Students should consult with OIS
prior to submitting the OPT application if concerned about completing degree requirements.
Students who have applied for OPT and fail to complete degree requirements may be at risk
for complications to their immigration status and/or ineligibility for OPT.

Students must apply for post-completion OPT not earlier than 90 days before the program end date
and the complete OPT application packet must arrive at the correct USCIS Lockbox Facility no
later than 60 days after the program completion date. Students may apply for pre-completion OPT
up to 120 days in advance of the requested work authorization start date. (Note: The USCIS
Lockbox Facility must also receive the OPT application no later than 30 days after the OPT was
recommended by OIS in SEVIS as reflected in the Issue date on the Form I-20). It takes USCIS
between 60-90 days to process the EAD - please prepare a timely application.

OIS strongly recommends that students apply for OPT three months before their program
completion date or anticipated employment start date. USCIS has 90 days to process the OPT
application. If a student has not received the EAD or other notification from USCIS and 90 days has
passed, the student should notify OIS. OIS is unable to inquire about the status of an application
unless 90 days has already passed.

What is my OPT
start date?

Post-completion OPT students must choose an OPT start date on a day that comes AFTER their
program completion date, but before the end of the 60 day grace period. When choosing an OPT
start date, please be aware that it may take 2-3 months for USCIS to process the OPT application.
Students should choose an OPT start date several weeks into the future in order to allow time for
the OPT application to be processed. There is no guarantee that students will be approved for the
OPT start date they have requested. ***Post-completion OPT students are not eligible to work
between the program end date and the OPT start date as indicated on an approved OPT EAD.
Do I need a job
offer before I apply
for OPT?

When can I start

What is my status
once I have applied
for OPT?
It is not necessary to have a job offer before applying for an initial period of OPT. However,
students must be working full-time in a temporary job commensurate with their degree level and
field of study in order to maintain valid F-1 status during the OPT period. USCIS limits students to
90 days of unemployment during the OPT period. Students should carefully document all attempts
to seek full-time employment (copies of resumes, applications, correspondences) and/or all periods
of full-time employment. Students should also notify OIS of periods of unemployment using the
OPT Validation Form (

Students are eligible to begin work once they have received the EAD, the begin date on the EAD
has passed and they have completed their academic program. Examples:

Can I start working before I receive my EAD card?
No. Even if the requested OPT start date has passed, a student is not eligible to begin working until
the EAD has been received. (This includes work at NC State. Once a student has received the
EAD card, he/she may be eligible for on-campus employment in non-student position that is
commensurate to his/her degree level and field of study.)

If Ive received the EAD, can I begin working before the begin date on the card?
No. Student cannot begin working before the OPT start date on the EAD.

During the OPT period, students are considered to be in lawful F-1 status provided that they are
employed full-time in a job related to their current degree level and field of study, and do not accrue
more than 90 days of unemployment.

Can I travel while
Im on OPT?
Students are eligible to travel during the OPT period if they are re-entering the country to resume
or commence employment. Students should present the following documents at the port of entry.
Passport (valid 6 months into the future)
Valid F-1 visa
I-20 (recently signed by OIS)
Letter from employer on company letterhead which provides the job title and description,
hours per week, and effective dates of employment.

OIS does not recommend that students travel while the OPT application is pending. OIS does not
recommend travel for students that are unemployed during the OPT period. Traveling
outside the U.S. does not stop the accrual of unemployment.

***Please note: A students ability to re-enter the U.S. during OPT is determined by the port of
entry official OIS can make no guarantees regarding travel during OPT.

How long can I
remain in the U.S.
after OPT?

Can I take classes
while Im on OPT?

What if I decide to
transfer to another

During OPT can I
work in an unpaid
or volunteer

Am I required to
report OPT
employment to

What if decide to
leave the U.S. for
the remainder of my
OPT period?

Does OIS require
proof of health
insurance during
As long as a student has maintained valid F-1 status throughout the OPT period, he or she is
allowed a 60 day grace period. The grace period begins on the first day after the OPT end date.
During this time, students are considered to be in F-1 status, but are no longer eligible to work.

While engaged in post-completion OPT, students are eligible to engage in coursework as long as it
is incidental to their OPT employment (limited to part-time enrollment.) OPT is effectively cancelled
by official SEVIS transfer to another school or change in academic level. Students interested in
changing schools or academic levels should consult with OIS about their OPT employment.

Students must contact OIS regarding any transfer to another school or change in academic level
(e.g., Masters to PhD) and complete the Transfer-Out Form
( ). Students
changing degree level at NC State must request a change in level from OIS. Students on OPT
cannot continue working once the transfer or change in degree level is complete and should consult
with OIS regarding the program start date at the new school or degree level.

While searching for full-time employment, students may engage in volunteer work or unpaid
internships that directly relate to their field of student and that do not violate any labor laws. These
students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20
hours per week during the period of employment.

Throughout the OPT period, students are required to notify OIS of any changes in to their name,
address, and/or immigration status. Students are encouraged, but not legally required, to report
changes in employment. Students should use the OPT Validation Form
( to update OIS with this information.

Additionally, students are personally responsible for documenting all periods of employment and
unemployment during OPT. This documentation should include job title and description for all
employment, start date of employment, change in employer, termination of employment, change in
job locations, and change from full-time to part-time employment. Students are also encouraged to
document their job search by keeping a list of the companies applied to and printing any
correspondence with companies.

If a student decides to depart from the U.S. for the remainder of the OPT period, the student must
notify OIS using the Departure Form (located in the Forms section of the OIS website). Departure
from the U.S. does not automatically cancel OPT or interrupt the accrual of unemployment.
Students must notify OIS to ensure that OPT is effectively canceled.

During the OPT period, OIS will no longer require proof of insurance. However, it is strongly
recommended that students have health insurance throughout the entire OPT period.



Step 1

Attend an OPT Information Session at OIS and obtain an OPT application packet.

Step 2

Read the entire OPT handout (provided at Information Session) and complete required forms. In addition to
attached forms, students must download and complete the I-765 application at

Step 3

Bring completed application materials to a scheduled OPT Processing session. Please have all materials
prepared and all documents properly completed before coming to the session. OIS will review the OPT
application, print a new I-20 showing the OPT recommendation, and notify students by email when the new I-20
is available (within 3-5 business days). Mailing instructions will be provided to the student.
Step 4 Within 10-14 business days after mailing the application, the student should receive a receipt notice (I-797C).
Sometime within the 90 day processing period, the Approval Notice (I-797D) and EAD should arrive to the
same address. Students that have not received the EAD within 90 days of the I-797C should contact OIS.
Step 5 Students should review the EAD for accuracy when it arrives. All students are required to provide OIS with a
copy of the EAD - copies can be dropped off, mailed as hard copies, or scanned and sent as an e-mail
attachment (please do not fax).
Application Checklist

Students must bring ALL documents below to the OPT Processing Session:
Academic Advisors Recommendation Form (completed and signed by the DGP and Advisor)
Copy of the completed OPT Mailing Instructions Form (read the form, check all boxes, print,
sign and date the second page). This form includes the complete application checklist, instructions for
mailing the OPT application to USCIS and student responsibilities during OPT.
Copy of completed Form I-765 (Available at under Immigration Forms.)
Form G-1145: (for students who wish to receive
electronic notification that their application has been accepted.)
Check or Money Order for $340 no cash or credit card; personal checks are accepted; checks should be
made payable to Department of Homeland Security. (Note: The I-765 Fee will increase to $380
effective 11/23/2010)
1 Photocopy of all Form I-20s (students are responsible for keeping all previously issued I-20s)
Two passport photos (2 x 2); for details visit
1 Photocopy of I-94 Admission-Departure Card, front and back (or I-797)
1 Photocopy of visa stamp page
1 Photocopy of passport ID page and/or passport expiration page (valid at least 6 months in to the future)
Photocopy of any/all previous EADs issued by USCIS (if applicable)

Instructions for Completing the OPT Application

Students must complete the top portion of the form and have their Director of Graduate
Programs or Academic Advisor (or Undergraduate Advisor) to complete the bottom half.
Students that are completing a thesis or dissertation are required to have the form signed by both
their DGP and their dissertation chair. **Defense date must be scheduled prior to submitting the
OPT application.

Form I-765
Application for

Guidance on

This form can be filled out online. Go to: Select Immigration Forms and
scroll down to I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. Form must be printed and
Please make sure the student signature is in ink.

Please mark the box Permission to accept employment and complete items 1-16
For item #3, use personal mailing address. Item 3 must be an address within the U.S.
and must be permanent throughout the entire OPT application process.
For item #10, I-94 number (eleven digits). This number is known as the Admission Number
and is printed on the front of the I-94 card
For item #11, Mark No unless previously authorized by USCIS for an EAD
For item #16, enter ( c )( 3 )( A ) for pre-completion OPT; or ( c ) ( 3 ) ( B ) for 12 months
post-completion OPT

Instructions available online: